By Stump Connolly

          When it comes to the latest Russian hack into sensitive government computer systems, I guess we can say it probably wasn’t a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed in New Jersey. That was the explanation Donald Trump offered four years ago when Russian intelligence agents meddled in the 2016 elections.

          We know now, thanks to the Mueller investigation, the names of the Russian agents who masterminded the first cyberattack. We know the computers they used, the methods they employed and a good deal of information on how their efforts affected the election. All this is in the 450-page Mueller report (that Donald Trump never read) and the indictment of the 12 Russian agents, all still living abroad (that Trump’s Attorney General William Barr tried to drop this fall).

          The latest cyberattack is far more deadly. It appears the Russians tinkered with the software update of a program called Orion last March that for months has allowed Russian agents to read emails, view sensitive reports and download data from a dozen federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, and Commerce, plus some 40 private contractors. One agency hit by the attack oversees America’s nuclear defenses; another regulates the stock market. Even the Department of Homeland Security reported breaches in its cybersecurity unit.

          It will fall to the new Biden administration to track down other targets and determine how wide ranging the damage is. But the forensic analysis, after the fact, will be hobbled by four years of chaos in the ranks of the Department of Homeland Security, which has had five heads in four years, three of whom were acting. They come and go at the whim of the President, usually over his displeasure they are not doing enough to build his Mexican wall, and much of the talent spread through the lower levels of the department has left with them.

          One bright spot was Christopher Krebs, the former head of security for Microsoft who became the Director of Cybersecurity. He directed a two-year effort to safeguard the 2020 election, but when he reported in November the 2020 elections were the most secure in American history, President Trump summarily fired him.

          What’s clear is that President Trump doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. He hasn’t had an intelligence briefing in two weeks. He has tweeted 729 times since Election Day, not once about the Russian hack. (69 percent of those tweets were about his vote fraud claims, 4 percent about vaccines, and 2 percent about Covid, according to Mother Jones.) And the last thing he wants to hear these days is evidence of Russian misdeeds.

          But Tom Bossert, Trump’s first homeland security advisor, wrote in The New York Times, “The magnitude of this security breach is hard to overstate.”

          “The access the Russians now enjoy could be used for far more than simply spying,” he said. “In the networks the Russians control, they have the power to destroy or alter data, and impersonate legitimate people. Domestic and geopolitical tensions could escalate quite easily if they use their access for malign influence and misinformation – both hallmarks of Russian behavior.”

          Bossert argues the breach is dangerous enough that Trump must find a way to work with President-elect Biden during the transition to protect the country and punish Russia.

          “President Trump must get past his grievances about the election and govern for the remainder of his term. This moment requires unity, purpose and discipline. An intrusion so brazen and of this size and scope cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation. We are sick, distracted, and now under cyberattack. Leadership is essential.”

          Unity, purpose and discipline are not the first words that come to mind talking about the president. Before he ever took office, his national security advisor Michael Flynn was assuring Russia he would lift the sanctions President Obama imposed for their 2016 election meddling. He pooh-poohed his own intelligence reports in his first summit with Vladimir Putin. “He just said it’s not Russia,” he told reporters, “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

          “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded,” he tweeted later.

          The pact, needless to say, never happened, and throughout his term, Trump has turned a blind eye to Putin misdeeds on the global stage. His benign approach to Russian aggression has prompted his critics to question whether he’s a Russian agent, but the Russians aren’t that stupid. Why invest a lot of time and effort cultivating him as a foreign asset when, if you just let Trump be Trump, he’ll screw up the country all by himself.

          What goes around comes around.

Trackback URL